From Jiaozi to Pierogi: Around the World in Dumplings
Your A-Z of dumplings
Dumplings are a part of many different cultures and cuisines around the world. They can be steamed, boiled, fried or baked. But It’s the filling that really makes a dumpling – and these can be both sweet or savory, and served as a starter, main, or dessert. However, like any rule, there are exceptions. So as you can see, dumplings are extremely versatile.
Dumplings are thought to originate in China, having been invented by Zhang Zhongjing, a medicine practitioner during the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD. Since then, the dumpling has crossed borders of land and sea, with the very first dumpling recipe appearing in a Roman cookbook.
Just as Zhongjing did, we start our dumpling journey in China. There are many types of dumplings across different Chinese cuisines, so we’ll just mention the two main types: jiaozi and bāozi.
Jiaozi refers to dumplings in Chinese, which can be boiled, steamed, or pan-fried. Traditionally in a crescent moon shape and mostly savory and filled with minced meat and vegetables. Potstickers, cleverly referring to the dumpling getting stuck in the wok, are a popular variation of fried dumplings on takeout menus. Wontons, more common in the southern regions, are similar to Jiaozi but often have thinner wrappers and are served in soup, or deep fried.
Bāozi (sometimes also translated as bao buns), on the other hand, are yeast-leavened buns that are steamed and contain different fillings depending on the region. Originating from Eastern China, for example, xiaolongbao is a type of bāozi eaten for breakfast or as a snack, filled with minced pork meat. Although known as soup dumplings, these are not served in soup, but instead are filled with some broth. The wrappers are thicker and fluffier than jiaozi.
The Japanese gyoza has its roots in China, with the Japanese eating the Chinese jiaozi during the occupation of Manchuria, and bringing the delicacy back home to Japan. Similarly, the Korean mandu was first introduced by Yuan Mongolians in the 14th century.
Tip: You can make a simple dipping sauce for the dumplings using soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinese rice wine vinegar, garlic cloves, chili flakes and scallions.
German & Austrian Dumplings
Next on our dumpling world tour, we are heading to German-speaking lands, where they are known under two names: Knödel in the south of the Main River, and Klöße in northern and western Germany.
The German dumpling dates back to the early 18th century and is likely to have been heavily influenced by Eastern European cuisine. The main ingredient of a traditional Knödel is potatoes and is often served as a side dish alongside various meats and, of course, sauerkraut.
Other variations of dumplings exist in the German-speaking world: notably in Swabian cuisine, ranging from Schupfnudeln (thick, finger-like shapes) to Spätzle (thin, egg-based) to Maultaschen (large, meat-filled pockets), literally translated as ‘mouth bags’.
However, the Germans, along with their Austrian neighbors, don’t shy away from some sweetness, serving dumplings as desserts filled with plum jam or apricots.
Just a quick trip south and we find ourselves in Italy, where dumplings, or filled pasta, are also an integral part of the cuisine. Ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti, agnolotti, tortelli, cappellacci and cappelletti are all pasta shapes that belong to the Italian dumpling family.
The beloved potato-based gnocchi is a non-stuffed variety that was created in Italy back in the 16th century after potatoes were brought to the country from South America. From personal experience, I would say these are the easiest to make yourself at home, requiring just three ingredients: potatoes, egg yolks, and flour!
Homemade sweet potato gnocchi
Truffle and Parmesan ravioli with veggies and pesto
5-ingredient tortellini in brodo with greens
Beetroot tortellini with ricotta and lime
The historical region of Tyrol, which is divided between Northern Italy and Austria, has its own hybrid form of dumpling: the canederli. Often coined the ‘Italian Knödel’ due to influence from both countries, this bread dumpling is seasoned with speck and cooked in broth or water.
Polish dumplings, also known as pierogi, have become popular around the world, especially in the United States, where it was introduced by the Polish diaspora during the Great Depression. Pierogi are half circular dumplings that can be filled with a variety of ingredients, from cabbage, mushrooms, ground beef and potatoes to grains and sauerkraut.
Originally seen as a cheap way to feed the poor, pierogi have become a staple comfort food, with Polish families often enjoying the dumplings on Christmas Eve or as a sweet main meal in the summer.
Did you know there is a Patron Saint of Pierogi? There are many legends surrounding how Hyacinth of Poland came to hold this title, but either way it has stuck, along with the Polish exclamation “Święty Jacku z pierogami!” (St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!).
They share similarities to the Ukrainian varenyky, which can be served as a starter or dessert, and can be filled with potato, cheese, fruit and more.
Pelmeni are Russian pasta dumplings filled with meat that originate from Siberia. The Udmurt Republic even celebrates the International Day of Pelmen.
Dumplings from the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking world
Empanada, which roughly translates to “wrapped in bread” in Spanish, is a popular dish originating in Spain that has spread across Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries around the world, from Spain and Mexico to Cape Verde and the Philippines. These large dumplings are usually flour or corn-based, filled with different meats and either baked or fried, giving it that signature flakey crust.
In Brazil, a similar dumpling called empada is filled with chicken, cheese or seafood. Other Brazilian dumpling dishes include coxinhas, which is similar to a chicken croquette, and pastéis, small savory pockets that are also deep fried.
Another type of croquette which is popular in Latin America is the papa rellena, which is usually stuffed with ground meat or picadillo or Chilean pantrucas, which are eaten in a vegetable soup.
One of the most well-known dishes in Turkish cuisine is manti, which are tiny dumplings stuffed with spiced ground lamb or beef and served with a garlicky yogurt sauce. Variations of manti are also popular in the Balkans, Central Asia and among Chinese Muslims. Another dumpling similar to manti that is eaten in Turkey is hingel, which are slightly larger in size.
Across the northern border to Georgia, and you can find a larger dumpling: khinkali. These are made of twisted knobs of dough, creating their signature shape resembling the Borjgali, the Georgian symbol of the sun.
Dumplings with a twist
Naturally, dumplings have also crossed borders and cuisines to become something new and innovative. From joining the tie-dye trend to becoming a hybrid bagel, here are some new experimental ways to make dumplings.
Obviously there are dozens of dumplings from cuisines around the world, so here are some honorable mentions: the oliebol from Belgium and the Netherlands, Louisiana-style beignet, South African souskluitjies, West African kenkey, Indian game, Haitian doumbrey, Swedish kroppkaka, Syrian kibbeh and Jewish matzah balls.
Published on September 15, 2022